This week’s word in our Word of The Week series will help us understand how United Methodists talk about grace. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me – yes, that grace! Wonderful grace, that warms the heart and turns lives around.
The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology says that the word “grace” in the New Testament is”charis” in Greek, and means God’s undeserved election of God’s people. Grace is also understood to be what scripture means when it talks about new birth in Christ (John 1:13, 3:3), becoming members of Christ’s body (2 Corinthians 12:27) and abiding in Christ (John 15:5). (pages 244-245 in WDCT)
Grace is an amazing gift from God that no one can earn and no one deserves. It is a rich concept and there are many ways to describe grace. John Wesley used three key words to talk about God’s grace. The Word of The Week is Wesley’s first word for grace: Prevenient.
Prevenient comes from the Latin, to come before or to precede – or anticipatory – or even better, expectant. God is expectantly reaching out to humanity. God’s love reaches out with expectation of our response. The joy of prevenient grace is that we don’t have to do anything to cause God to notice us or reach out to us. We are not left to our own devices in life. God created humanity in love, and God’s grace reaches out to us before we are even aware of God’s love.
The confirmation classes at Faith UMC use the image of a house to understand the Wesleyan way of thinking about grace. If God’s love is a house, then prevenient grace is the love of God that gets you up onto the porch. Prevenient grace is the front porch of God’s house – you haven’t knocked on the door yet, you haven’t asked to come inside or asked for anything yet, you’re just stepping foot onto the porch. The kind of porch that just looks so inviting – picture it in your mind. You don’t know what’s inside the house yet, but you think you might want to know more, so you start to pay attention.
God’s prevenient grace is invitational. God’s prevenient grace comes before we even know we need grace or want grace.
Ephesians 2 says this about grace: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…. All of us also lived [in the way of the world] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…. But because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. (selections from Ephesians 2:1-9)
What is your experience of prevenient grace? How did God come to you before you were even aware you needed God? Or, how did God invite you up onto the porch of God’s great house of love and mercy?